Former President Donald Trump takes the stage before delivering remarks at Windham High School on August 8, 2023, in Windham, New Hampshire. (Scott Eisen | Getty Images)
New Hampshire Republicans who turned out to support former President Donald Trump in Windham on Tuesday made it clear that “parental rights” will be a top concern heading into next year’s Republican primary.
Held at Windham High School, the event marked Trump’s first campaign rally in New Hampshire since last week’s indictment by the Department of Justice. Despite periods of torrential rain and thunder, supporters lined up by the hundreds to hear the former president speak.
“On day one, I will sign a new executive order to cut federal funding for any school pushing critical race theory, transgender insanity, and other inappropriate racial, sexual, or political content on our children,” Trump said during his speech.
The audience responded to his comments with roaring enthusiasm, signaling continued interest by some New Hampshire Republicans in limiting instruction in schools around topics relating to race and gender. Trump supporters Robin Martyn and Donna Kloczewski described “critical race theory” and issues in education as some of their top concerns heading into the 2024 election.
“The school system and what they’re teaching, critical race theory, the whole gender pronouns, all that stuff [concerns me],” Kloczewski said.
Parental rights and regulation of the content taught in schools has been a subject of heated debate during recent legislative sessions.
In 2021, the New Hampshire Legislature passed a law to bar educators and public employees from teaching or advocating that members of any one gender, race, sexual orientation, or other protected class were inherently advantaged or disadvantaged over another. Known by opponents as the “divisive concepts” law, Republicans passed the legislation as a means to combat worries of “critical race theory” arriving in classrooms.
The law also bars teachers and employees from advocating that a person in one protected group should be treated differently than a person in another group. The law is currently being challenged in U.S. District Court as an unconstitutional limit on freedom of speech by the ACLU and a group of educators.
New Hampshire Republican lawmakers have also sought to pass a “parental bill of rights” in the past two years, which would give parents the right to ask and be told about their child’s gender identity at school. That bill narrowly failed in the New Hampshire House in 2022 and 2023, and has been blocked from reappearing in 2024. Opponents said it would force gender-nonconforming students to be “outed” to their parents by teachers against their will, and that it would hamper those students’ ability to open up to teachers they trust.
A poll taken in March from the University of New Hampshire Survey Center found that 41 percent of Granite Staters somewhat or strongly support the state adoption of a “parental bill of rights.” However, findings revealed a strong partisan divide on the issue, with 73 percent of Republicans and 45 percent of independent voters supporting a parental bill of rights, but only 6 percent of Democrats.
The former president spent little time trying to distinguish his stance from that of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who has touted Florida’s controversial “Don’t Say Gay” law as a symbol of his commitment to parental rights in schools. Instead, Trump dismissed his competitor outright, quoting polls showing a wide gap between the two candidates.
“Every time [I] get indicted I like to check the polls,” he quipped.
Brushing off his indictment as an election strategy by President Joe Biden, Trump framed the speech to New Hampshire voters as veteran-focused. He looked backward to his administration’s passage of the Veterans Affairs Accountability and Whistleblower Protection Act of 2017, and criticized federal court and administrative decisions that have rendered it largely ineffective.
He also promised “a brand new, state-of-the-art VA hospital” for New Hampshire to end its status as the only contiguous state without a full service facility. After shouts from the crowd blamed “corrupt Governor Sununu,” Trump took the opportunity to jab at Gov. Chris Sununu, who has spoken against Trump’s campaign for the Republican nomination.
“We could win this day so easily if we had help from the governor,” Trump said, “but we never got help from the governor. We helped him, but he never helped us.”
Bulletin reporter Ethan DeWitt contributed to this report.
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